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Marin Community Foundation: Strategic Initiative to Close Achievement Gaps

Case Overview

Marin Community Foundation (MCF) engaged FSG to support the development of a strategic initiative to close the achievement gap in the county’s lowest performing school districts.

The Challenge

Marin has one of the largest achievement gaps of any county in the country. MCF trustees and staff had hypotheses for causes of the achievement gap in their area, but no comprehensive strategy had been identified for how to address those causes. At the same time, the severity of recent and impending budget cuts were diminishing school districts’ capacity to provide an equitable education to students in need. FSG was challenged to test hypotheses, profile best practices, conduct national research and, ultimately, support MCF to define strategies, approaches, budgets and metrics for an initiative to close the achievement gap.

Approach & Solutions

FSG began by working with MCF trustees and staff to understand their hypotheses as to why only 21% of low-income students and students of color in their area were completing high school ready for college or other post-secondary education options. FSG tested these hypotheses through interviews and research in four school districts in which the achievement gap was most prevalent, while also conducting national research on the root causes of the achievement gap and proven interventions for addressing it.

National research confirmed many of MCF’s hypotheses, and local interviews with superintendents, principals, teachers, community groups and parents led to the development of a highly informed, nuanced understanding of each district’s performance and needs. FSG synthesized those findings to recommend three high-level goals where MCF could have the most impact:

  • Increase the number of low-income children and children of color who are prepared for academic success in school by investing in quality early learning experiences, parent involvement and extended time spent learning
  • Improve educational outcomes of low-income students and students of color through an investment in improving the quality of low-performing public schools
  • Increase the number of low-income students and students of color who access post-secondary education ready to succeed by investing in preparation, access and coordination of providers

Specific approaches within each strategy were developed, along with detailed, targeted expected outcomes for MCF to track over time. FSG then helped MCF determine how it would allocate its education budget, $37.5 million over five years, toward each element of the strategy. Finally, FSG helped the foundation develop robust implementation plans to roll the strategy out in partnership with school districts, other local education funders and key community leaders.

About Marin Community Foundation

One of the largest community foundations in the country, the Marin Community Foundation aims to improve the human condition, embrace diversity, promote a humane and democratic society, and enhance the community's quality of life in Marin County by encouraging and applying philanthropic contributions.

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